RJD2 started making their own music in 1993. They got their first official production spot five years later. Since then, he’s released a slew of solo and collaborative albums, racked up hundreds of production and remix credits for artists like the late MF DOOM (as Viktor Vaughn), created a TV show theme song Emmy and Golden Globe winner, and has toured the world recreating her intricate sample compositions for enthusiastic audiences.
Today, after nearly two decades as a professional musician, he wants to share his musical knowledge with the world.
Origin Story and Early DJ Battles
Born in May 1976, RJD2 moved from Eugene, Oregon to Columbus, Ohio at a young age. Her high school years were spent at a specialized music school that taught music theory, but it turned out to be a difficult and rather joyless pursuit. It was Columbus’ vibrant DJ scene that ignited his true passions for creating music. Starting out with two Technics 1200s and a crummy mixer, he elevated his DJ status by winning first place in the Ohio Hip-Hop Expo DJ Battle in 1997.
RJ’s dedication to DJing also went beyond fighting. Although he was not necessarily an avid sample seeker at first, he always sought to stand out by inserting unique recordings into his live sets. “If all you’re playing is the last 12-inch released in 1996, all DJ sets are functionally equivalent,” he says.
Acquisition of MPC, Early Production and Def Jux
1997 also marked the year he saved enough money to buy an MPC 2000XL, which led to a long period of hyperfocus and in-depth study. RJ once estimated that he was spending between five and eight hours a day on the 1997 machine when he released Doppleganger in 2002.
Although it took about five years to achieve Doppleganger skill levels, he earned some production credits as a DJ/producer for Copywrite and Camu Tao’s band MHz, aka Megahertz. Cuts like “World Premier” (1998) and “Rocket Science” (1999) were raw and impressive early accomplishments, while his solo track “Silver Fox” – which later appeared on Doppleganger– was featured on an early Def Jux sampler in 2000.
Doppleganger, Since our last conversation, and test of MPC limits
When RJ started working on his debut with Def Jux, Doppleganger, he had both an impressive selection of records to sample and a deep understanding of his MPC. As a result, he was determined to break the boundaries of anything that had been created before with the sampler. “I was trying to push this machine literally further than anyone,” he says. “I’m not saying I achieved it, but I tried to push it as far as anyone had ever technically pushed it.”
Now, with an arsenal of gear like a Sequential Circuits Prophet T8, a Moog Polymoog, and the Yamaha CS-80, which featured prominently in the song exploder-featured “Games You Can Win” and the Lady Fortune first “A Portal Inward” – he is able to fully appreciate both the unique qualities of the MPC and the feats it was able to accomplish with a basic single-sampler setup. “I didn’t realize the extent of this limitation until I started buying instruments and microphones and getting into live instrument tracking,” he says.
Doppleganger was released by Def Jux in the summer of 2002 with modest expectations, but quickly found an audience and received rave reviews from HipHopDX, Fork, and twirl, and his legacy lives on. Tracks “Ghostwriter” and “Smoke & Mirrors” continue to find new generations of listeners while amassing massive play counts on streaming.
RJD2 – “Smoke and Mirrors”
RJ’s second solo effort, Since our last conversation– yet another attempt to push the MPC’s capabilities to breaking point – has caught on twirl“The 40 best albums of 2004”. It also featured the multi-talented producer singing along to a sublime MPC production on the cover/remake of Labi Siffre’s “Bless The Telephone,” titled “Making Days Longer.”
Other solo adventures, beautiful city, Mad Men, and beyond
RJ’s later solo efforts The third hand (2007), the colossus (2010), and More is than is not (2013) proved that he has plenty of creative energy left to share with the world. The third hand moved away from sampling and focused much more on live instruments played by RJ, The Colossus featured “A Son’s Cycle”—a cut three-beat detachment in the same style as Gang Starr’s “Speak Ya Clout”—while More is than is not included the beautiful Phonte Coleman collaboration “Temperamental”. All three albums made their way onto the Billboard graphics.
Not to be neglected during its post-Since our last conversation stretch are a myriad of side projects and collaborative efforts, including beautiful city—an acclaimed 2006 collaborative project with Freestyle Fellowship, Haiku State, and A-Team member and Project Blowed co-founder Aceyalone. The album received praise for its distinct production and gripping lyricism and the finale’s instrumental “A Beautiful Mine” became the theme song for AMC’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series. Mad Men.
From student to teacher
In the years that followed More is than is not, RJ launched the collaboration STS x RJD2 (2015) with rapper STS, 2016 and 2020 solo efforts Lady Fortune and The funny ones, and tendrils (2018) under his alter ego The Insane Warrior. Remarkably, his knowledge of MPC has continued to grow and evolve during this time.
Although he continues to learn new MPC tricks and techniques after nearly a quarter of a century of using the machine, these days he’s just as excited to expand his capabilities in new areas. many other areas of music.
“I know a fraction of what there is to know about playing bass, or playing drums, or guitar, keyboards, or micing, or programming synths” , he said. “Apart from extracting the last little bits of information from the MPC, there’s a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in. And I don’t really care about squeezing the last bit of juice out of this machine anymore, because I want to ship something new that’s going to give me a whole new set of sounds.”
The amount of gear RJ has become proficient in is staggering. In previous interviews, he has spoken at length about his collection of DIY synths, using MIDI and a Yamaha CP-80 electric grand piano to trigger a Nord Electro and Korg Polysix, and layering those three machines together through a Leslie cabinet.
Achieving a high level of proficiency in multiple disciplines has been accompanied by a growing desire to share his knowledge and expertise with others, as evidenced by videos like RJ’s brief but impressive live demo from Scratch DJ Academy in 2014 deconstructing “Someone’s Second Kiss” from Since our last conversation. Although the video was well done, it is quite concise and there seemed to be more room to explore the video content and online teaching materials after the video was released.
Realization of a Soundfly course with DIY improvisation
An excerpt from RJD2’s Soundfly Sampling Course
This opportunity arose when Soundfly asked RJ to create a comprehensive online course. While the offering was intriguing, the COVID-19 pandemic presented the unique challenge of maintaining safety for all parties involved. As a result, RJ decided to go with a somewhat unconventional process instead of having a film crew in his house. “Technically, I did all the filming myself,” he says. “It’s the same way I do my albums, it’s kind of like a one-man show. I did all the video engineering and sound recording, and there was nobody there- down. It was just me.”
In true DIY spirit, RJ and the folks at Soundfly would log into Google Meet or Zoom while RJ stuck his phone to the back of the DSLR so everyone could make sure the video had the appropriate framing and quality. “When they had a good idea that the framing was right and we were checking the levels, then I was basically going to hit the record on Pro Tools,” he says.
The end result was RJD2: from samples to pieces, an intuitive course released at the end of July 2021 that includes over 35 videos, including a very detailed description of the creation and process behind “Smoke & Mirrors”, and a host of other resources. The videos cover everything from his philosophy on collecting records and finding samples to an overview of all aspects of the songmaking process. He even dabbles in the sampling techniques of other influential producers that RJ studied for inspiration.
The last takeaway
While RJ certainly wants students taking the course to learn technical elements of the trade, he also encourages students to break the rules, push the boundaries, and generally avoid the temptation to play it safe when setting out to do their jobs. own records, no matter what their current skill level is today.
“If you do this right, you’re going to continually progress as an artist and you’re going to kind of get more and more tools in your arsenal of things you can do,” he says. “And that only happens by living at that edge of limitation, learning, and forcing yourself to push everything you can do to extreme extremes.”
Discover Soundfly RJD2: from samples to pieces to learn more.